Ramen hits the road: B.C. driver fined for chopstick distraction

For years, B.C. drivers have tested the limits of the province’s distracted driving laws.

But the ramen hit the road recently for one Kelowna woman, who was busted and later fined for eating with chopsticks while speeding along a highway.

Corinne Jackson claimed she was able to handle a steering wheel and a bowl with the one hand she wasn’t using to manoeuvre her eating utensils.

But judicial justice Brian Burgess rejected Jackson’s defence. He also made a point of saying he wasn’t condemning all vehicular nibblers.

“I am not finding that a person who is eating while driving is driving without due care and attention,” Burgess wrote.

But he said a “reasonable and prudent person” should have at least one hand on the wheel while the car is in motion.

“The hand that is on the steering wheel should not also be holding some other object.”

‘A very exaggerated situation’

It’s a case of life imitating tweet for the Kelowna RCMP.

Almost a year before they ticketed Jackson for driving without due care and attention, the force posted a picture of a woman eating noodles with chopsticks on Twitter as part of a campaign against distracted driving. 

“(Do you know) you can’t eat a bowl of soup while driving?” the post read. “Drive without due care=$368 Fine + 6 points.”

The tweet raised so many legal questions around eating and driving that RCMP were forced to clarify the issue with a local newspaper.

“Obviously the tweet depicted a very exaggerated situation,” Const. Melissa Wutke told the Central Okanagan media outlet KelownaNow at the time.

“There is no blanket statement such as if you eat noodles and drive it will equal this. It’s all very dependent on the situation the officer sees.”

According to the decision, Jackson cited the KelownaNow articles and the RCMP tweets in her defence.

“She submitted that she had both hands on the wheel,” Burgess wrote. 

“This submission is contradictory to her evidence, which was that she had one hand on the wheel with three fingers of her left hand holding the wheel and her index finger and thumb holding a bowl of spinach, and she had chopsticks in her right hand.”

‘Shovelling’ the food

RCMP Const. Chris Neid testified he had an elevated view of Jackson’s vehicle as she headed westbound on Highway 33 on Nov. 2, 2018.

“There were chopsticks in the driver’s right hand which she was using to put food into her mouth. Const. Neid observed that there were no hands on the steering wheel,” the decision says.

“Const. Neid described the action of the chopsticks as ‘shovelling’ the food.”

The B.C. ruling says drivers can eat, but have to have at least one full hand on the wheel. An RCMP officer said the accused was ‘shovelling’ her food. (Greg Baker/Associated Press)

Jackson denied ever driving without at least one hand on the wheel. But she also disputed the claim she was speeding, stating she was “perhaps no more than 10 km/h over.”

That didn’t sit well with Burgess.

“I pause to note here that Ms. Jackson applied a common misconception to her evidence about her speed,” the judicial justice wrote.

“The law is that one km/h over the speed limit is speeding. Despite her evidence that she was not speeding, Ms. Jackson was speeding.”

A person should not be ‘multitasking’

B.C.’s Motor Vehicle Act is silent on the specific issue of chopsticks, but as a rule says “a person must not drive a motor vehicle on a highway without due care and attention.”

Provincial courts have seen numerous cases involving the use of cellphones and other hand-held devices while driving, but Burgess said neither he nor the RCMP could find any involving food.

“The question for the court to decide in this case is whether the driving of Ms. Jackson, that is holding a bowl in her left hand, holding chopsticks in the right hand and actively eating while speeding on a four-land road in a city, constitutes driving without due care and attention,” Burgess wrote.

Jackson argued she hadn’t made any bad driving moves, and the RCMP officers who dealt with her agreed.

But — the three fingers she claimed to have had on the wheel notwithstanding — Burgess said Jackson was taking a risk with her own safety and life as well as the lives of others.

“A person should not be ‘multitasking’ while driving,” he wrote. “A person should not be driving while having objects in both hands.”

The maximum fine under the Motor Vehicle Act is $2,000, but most tickets for distracted driving are $368. Jackson has until the end of October to pay.



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